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Belly fat may weaken bones
November 30th, 2010
12:01 AM ET

Belly fat may weaken bones

One of the few possible advantages of  carrying extra weight is being shot down

In the past, doctors had suggested that excess body fat, which is associated with heart disease, diabetes, and many other bodily harms, may protect against the bone disease osteoporosis.

But now, a study finds that even this may be misleading. In fact, deep belly fat may contribute to osteoporosis, say scientists whose research will be presented at the Radiological Society of North America.

That's because the fat cells most  likely produce substances,  not yet understood, that lead to bone disease in addition to heart disease and diabetes, said Dr. Miriam Bredella of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, where the study was conducted.

Take the Healthy Bones Test

Bredella and colleagues looked at 50 premenopausal women and examined their fat using computerized tomography (CT), which can distinguish between compartments of fat. Bredella said the human body has two categories of fat: superficial fat, which lies under the skin, and visceral fat, which surrounds organs. The first type of fat has been shown to have benefits against diabetes and heart disease when distributed around the hips.

It's the second kind of fat, the deep belly fat, that is bad for bones, she said. The study found that this fat was associated with lower bone mineral density, a measure of bone strength.

Most other studies on fat and osteoporosis have looked at weight or body mass index (BMI), which do not reflect this distribution of fat, she said.

And there's no way to know where the fat goes when you gain weight, as it's largely determined by genetics, she said.

The researchers also used a new technique to look at bone marrow fat, or fat within bones, which also appears to make the bones weaker. Women with deep tummy fat also had more fat within their bones, Bredella said.

On the other hand, women with anorexia have also been known to be at increased risk of osteoporosis. The bottom line is that you should strive for a normal weight, because the extremes of too much or too little fat are both bad for bones, Bredella said.

The research is being presented for the first time at the conference, and has not yet appeared in a peer-reviewed journal. Further work should be done to confirm the results.

A future study will look at the relationship between deep belly fat and osteoporosis among men, Bredella said.


soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Lincoln Brigham

    It could also be that people with this type of fat are less active. Vigorous physical activity is known to reduce obesity and osteoporosis.

    It is also very important to note that this is NOT a peer-reviewed study and that "Further work should be done to confirm the results". In other words, this study is VERY preliminary and hasn't "shot down" anything. It shouldn't even be in the mainstream news.

    November 30, 2010 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
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    November 30, 2010 at 03:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Snow

    What can I do if I have always had belly fat, but the number on the scale is healthy? A massive running program did not reduce it much. It runs in my family. Any advice?

    November 30, 2010 at 08:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • All Girl

      A lot of things contribute to belly fat. past surgeries that limit mobility. Birth of children, and yes being overweight from eating. I have tried these Tummy liners that give me comfort.. The tag says Pambra's

      November 30, 2010 at 11:41 | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      Lift weights, cardio exercise is great but doesn't always do much to change body composition.

      November 30, 2010 at 14:59 | Report abuse |
    • gala12

      Not long time ago I read the book "6 week cure for the middle-age middle" by Drs. Eades. The explain why people have different kids of fat and offer the diet to treat visceral fat. Check their website proteinpower.com .

      November 30, 2010 at 20:23 | Report abuse |
    • Lincoln Brigham

      A "massive running program" is a crude, brute force approach with zero sophistication. There is more to exercise than just cardio training. A more balanced, reasoned program that included strength training, interval training, and only a moderate amount of cardio would be infinitly better and have a much better chance of success.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:22 | Report abuse |
  4. Hannah

    Snow-Same thing here, I actually just talked to my mom about it a couple days ago. She said to work on strengthening your lower back muscles while also doing cardio and core work.

    November 30, 2010 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jenn

    Interesting study, although I question how universal the results are. One side of my family is prone to obesity and belly fat (and has been for generations) and the other side of the family is not. Guess which side has bone and heart disease issues....its not the obese/belly fat side. Likewise, my husband's family is similar: all of the thinner, more athletic ones have bone and cholesterol issues, while the heavier, less active ones are surprisingly healthy. I think the (researchers or media) need to stop issuing blanket study results that do not take into account family history, genetics, etc...as they make a huge difference. For example, you can be overweight (as I am) yet eat under 1500 calories a day, exercise regularly, and get a continual stream of lectures from doctors until the numbers come back showing that you are healthier than most people. Just my two cents.

    November 30, 2010 at 09:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. mario

    What does that say about liberal in the thick skulls.

    November 30, 2010 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • notmyrealname

      In English, please? Or do we need the idiot translator ring for your posts?

      November 30, 2010 at 21:37 | Report abuse |
  7. Greg

    There are great ways to lose your gut or tone your abs posted on Holosfitness.com. Holosfitness.com offers hundreds of exercises posted with step-by-step instruction, all of which are completely free. The site also offers helpful nutrition-related information, which is important if you're trying to lose weight and lose that guy.

    November 30, 2010 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • gala12

      You can't treat fat distribution with exercise. But visceral fat is very sensitive to the amount of carbohydrates the diet.

      November 30, 2010 at 20:26 | Report abuse |
  8. Annyah

    Isn't it also possible that it was a bad diet that gave the person the belly fat that could have lead to the bad bones? I also agree with Lincoln Bringham that people with the belly fat also generally exercise less, and exercise is supposed to improve bone health.

    November 30, 2010 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      I have a brother that is a closet drinker (fell off the wagon and hides it from his wife). He jogs 5 miles a day and runs marathons for charity several times a year. He has belly fat and blames it on his thyroid. – Not!

      November 30, 2010 at 16:23 | Report abuse |
  9. razzlea

    I think belly fast is the worse kind , id take hips and thighs anyday! check out my health and fitness blog http://razzlea.blogspot.com/

    November 30, 2010 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sobhy

      My doctor ecrently put me on a low carb diabetic diet. I am not a diabetic yet. I have a very high insulin resistance in which he wants to treat with diet and exercise and diabetic meds. I have been charting everything I eat, the calories, the fat grams, the carbs, fiber and protein. However, since my carbs have decreased, it seems that my fat intake has increased at least it seems that way in the pie chart. Is it possible to reduce the fat AND carbs? The doc wants me under 35 carbs a day which is extremely hard to do as it is. It seems like the lower fat foods have a higher carb content and the higher fat foods have a lower carb content. I am concerned about my blood lipids, blood pressure and overall heart health. I would greatly appreciate any tips or advice you may have to offer.Thanks!Oh, the reason I am so insulin resistant is due to the PCOS that I was diagnosed with a year ago. It's sypmtoms have started to take over my body very quickly and has deemed me infertile, unless I can drop and control my insulin levels ASAP.

      April 8, 2012 at 17:38 | Report abuse |
  10. iknowmyrights

    I hope they asked for fatty's consent before taking that shot...

    November 30, 2010 at 16:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Burbank

      Fatty probably got paid for it, now they can live it up big time at Mickey D's!

      November 30, 2010 at 16:21 | Report abuse |
  11. Burbank

    I disagree with this article where it says the fat distribution is all determined genetically. Ever hear of a beer belly??? Drinking causes mineral deficiencies big time, and this article also says that mineral deficiencies cause belly fat. The choice to drink is not genetic.

    November 30, 2010 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
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    December 1, 2010 at 04:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Anna W

    Not only does belly fat weaken bones but can cause other serious health problems!

    December 1, 2010 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Nate H

    This news is a big truffle shuffle. No ongoing health research should be in the mainstream news until the results have been incorporated into actual treatments by doctors.

    December 5, 2010 at 16:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. BS

    The point was that previous researchers had suggested that, based on BMI, being overweight may be good for bone health. This article brings about a question of wheter BMI and bone health are associative. Similarly, perhaps bone density s more complex than currently suggested. This should be in the mainstream media because it offers opportunities for more research and research methodologies. Nearly all health/nutritional studies are correlational in nature yet are promoted as cause/effect or universally true. This present article in no way suggests that the research is or was high quality, it just brings up a question. Belly fat will probably never be proven to weaken bones (how can it) but some associaition might exist.

    December 14, 2010 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.